Be not afraid! Aim high! Dream great things!
Never before in my lifetime has a Pope felt more accessible, more relevant and more inspirational than our current Pope, Francis. This year’s theme for our College is inspired not by encyclicals or apostolic exhortations but by the ‘tweets’ of Pope Francis. Tweets to young people in particular. Pope Francis uses social media to communicate his message of hope and faith in young people. He continued to share this message with his rousing addresses to young people from around the world who gathered to celebrated World Youth Day last year.
And so from the words of Pope Francis our theme for 2017 emerged…Be not afraid! Aim high! Dream great things! These three statements are our compass, our inspiration and our challenge for the days, weeks and months ahead.
The terms ‘Be not afraid’ are used numerous times in the bible when God is speaking with God’s people. These are not big booming commands from on high but more like an intimate conversation between a parent and child. In all of these examples human frailty and vulnerability is recognised and given an invitation to experience peace, protection, courage, joy, possibility, healing, comfort or nourishment.
We know that there are some things that we should be afraid of. These fears keep us safe. However there are other fears that we build up inside that can get in the way of our learning, get in the way of us being our best.
The gift of a Catholic school is that we are called to faith. Through this we are invited into a relationship with a God who loves us, who formed us, who knows us and who calls us by name. Indeed Pope Francis reminds us that ‘God is no stranger to our lives and everyday God walks with us’.
What might we afraid of that may inhibit our human flourishing or our capacity to learn?
We know that to flourish and learn, to aim high and dream great things we must have the right preconditions in place. The Charter of Sandhurst School Improvement states: The mental, physical and emotional wellbeing of young people are essential pre-conditions for successful learning. I would argue the same could be said for adults to be successful.
Johanna Wyn (2007) wrote about the importance of building an emotionally ‘well ‘ community and in particular the importance of ensuring that young people have the ‘skills and capacities to manage uncertainty and complexity’.
She stated that the quality of social relationships within schools are critical to the development of emotional literacy and emotional wellbeing. The building blocks for a well community lie in social emotional competency.
There are 5 competencies:
- self awareness
- self management
- social awareness
- relationship skills
- responsible decision making
We are called to greatness because we are a a part of God’s creation. Jesus came so that all may have life and have it to the full - John10:10. This again is at the heart of human flourishing and no doubt inspiring Pope Francis in his challenge to young people and indeed to us. Jesus told the parable of the talents to illustrate this. In the parable we are reminded that God has given each person a wide variety of gifts, and God expects us to employ those gifts in God’s service. It is not acceptable merely to put those gifts on a shelf and ignore them. Our own vision statement reflects this: we seek to educate the whole person to be a contributing member of the human community in Christ’. A contributing member, not a passive observer of life.
If we return to the words of Pope Francis at World Youth Day 2016, he says:
‘nothing is more beautiful than seeing the enthusiasm, dedication, zeal and energy with which so many young people live their lives. This is beautiful! And where does this beauty come from? When Jesus touches a young person’s heart, he or she becomes capable of truly great things.
I do not want to offend anyone, but it pains me to meet young people who seem to have opted for “early retirement”. I worry when I see young people who have “thrown in the towel” before the game has even begun, who are defeated even before they begin to play.
We do not want to be robbed of the best of ourselves. Jesus can give you true passion for life. Jesus can inspire us not to settle for less, but to give the very best of ourselves.’
How might we take the energy of those one million young people who shared in that experience of listening to Pope Francis to help our young people not settle for less than the very best of themselves?
This year we want to challenge the language - I’m not good enough, I can’t, I couldn’t, I’ll never, they won’t, they can’t, I never, I couldn’t, I’m not….What do we do about this?
Research tells us about the importance of high expectations for students.
The research tell us that students are more likely to meet expectations than not, regardless of whether these expectations are good, bad, correct, or misguided. Therefore understanding the factors that contribute to how both teachers, parents and student form expectations is crucial for ensuring that their influence on student learning is positive and motivating, rather than a factor that hinders success.
I am also reminded of the stories I shared last year about the flea and the elephant. Fleas can jump to enormous heights but if placed in a jar with a card over the top they will only ever jump as high as the jar even when the card is removed. Or the elephant that spends to long tethered to a stake, when released only ever ventures to the perimeter to where they were permitted to roam whilst tethered. We must ensure we remove the cards and chains from our dreams and our capacity to aim high.
And finally some thoughts about dreaming great things. We are all formed full of divine possibilities. What the world needs most of all are the dreamers, the creators, the entrepreneurs, the artists who can imagine new possibilities, solutions and ways of being because we are increasingly living in a world of exponential change and uncertainty. These dreamers are already amongst us in our staff, our students and our families. Two years ago I spoke about sparks. Each one of us has a spark to be shared with the world. We must ensure we do not hide these sparks behind our insecurities or other peoples opinions that our dreams are not possible.
Dreaming can be hard work. They require a stretch. But if we dream great things and make them happen we will leave our mark. People will know we have passed this way.
So let us be inspired by our Pope and have a fantastic year in 2017.